The Cultural Space
of the Yaaral and Degal
 

The cultural space of the yaaral and the degal corresponds to the huge pastoral lands of the Peul of the inner Niger Delta. The yaaral and the degal designate the festivals which mark the crossing of the river, at Diafarabe and Dialloube respectively, by herds of cattle which graze throughout the year between the two different but complementary ecological spaces: the arid land of the Sahel and the flood plains of the inner Niger river. The festivities always take place on a Saturday, an auspicious day in popular Peul belief, determined according to the state of the pasture and the drop in the river level. 

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These festivals give rise to extremely varied cultural expressions. Competitions for the most beautifully decorated herd are organized. Music and dance are performed by a range of groups. Herdsmen recite pastoral poems relating their adventures during the long months of pilgrimage through different lands. Young women put on their finest clothes and jewellery to acclaim the herdsmen in song. Wives meticulously decorate their houses to welcome home their husband.

These two events, the origin of which goes back to when the Peuls settled in the region, probably around the fourteenth century, are the linchpins of the transhumance way of life of these people. Pastoral practices were codified at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The management of the pasturelands, the marking out of transhumance routes and the bringing together of herds at specific points have improved the organization of the event and have enabled a larger crowd to gather, turning these pastoral festivals into major events. Because they bring together representatives of all the ethnic and occupational groups in the Delta – Peul cattle-breeders, Marka or Nono rice-growers, Bambara millet-growers and Bozo fishermen – as well as notables from other regions in the country, the yaaral and the degal continue to renew inter-community pacts and reinforce social cohesion.

The huge attachment of the communities in the region to these festivities ensures their continuity. However, the yaaral and the degal are now weakened by recurring droughts affecting the pastureland and the herds and disrupting the pastoral calendar. Rural exodus of the young, causing a loss of knowledge and know-how associated with animal breeding and the organization of the festivals, and the often inappropriate intervention of the central authorities also have an effect on these cultural expressions.